The Consul at Damascus (Keeley) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 28.]
Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatches Nos. 285 and 296 of October 26 and December 4, 1925, respectively,69 in so far as they deal with representations to the French Authorities respecting the protection of foreigners in general and Americans in particular residing in Damascus, and to report the following additional developments along this line.
On February 9, 1926, at the instigation of this office, the Consular Corps addressed a note to M. Pierre Alype, Envoy Extraordinary in Damascus of the French High Commissioner, inviting his attention to the ease with which the rebels had recently been circulating in Damascus where they had kidnapped various persons and possessed themselves of their belongings. It was pointed out that there appeared to be nothing to prevent the same thing being done to foreigners, and he was requested to inform the Consuls whether or not he thought the condition of security in the city warranted any modification in the opinion expressed by General Soulé, the predecessor of General Andréa, and communicated to the Consuls on December 1, 1925, (see Enclosure No. 5 with despatch No. 296 of December 4, 1925) to see effect that the situation did not then seem to warrant advising foreigners to evacuate the city. A copy of the Consular Corps’ note, in French and in translation, is transmitted herewith.[Page 137]
On February 19, 1926, M. Alype transmitted to the Dean of the Consular Corps a copy of General Andréa’s reply, dated February 13, 1926, to the questions raised in the Consular Corps’ note. Copies of each of these communications are transmitted herewith. They are self-explanatory.
Being unable to share General Andréa’s optimistic view of the situation as expressed in his letter, and the potential danger to Americans having been subsequently increased by the anti-Christian and anti-foreign feeling aroused by the action of Armenian irregulars who were sent into the Meidan Quarter on February 15th ostensibly against the rebels occupying that quarter … this Consulate on February 22, 1926, addressed a further note to M. Alype. A copy of the note, in English and in translation, is transmitted herewith.
It is believed that the Department will find my note of February 22nd self-explanatory. In order to avoid a possible misinterpretation of my motive in referring to the use of Armenian irregulars, however, it may be well to point out that it was from their use that Moslem feeling had become aroused to such an extent that a massacre of all Christians was not beyond probability and was thwarted not so much by any preventive action of the French Authorities as by the attitude of the more enlightened Moslems who, some because they realized the inexpediency of a massacre, others because they were really opposed to it on ethical grounds, counseled moderation to their coreligionists.
On February 25, 1926, not having received any response to my communication of the 22nd to the French Authorities, I addressed all Americans in Damascus individually, advising them to leave the city and district. A copy of one of these letters is transmitted herewith.70
Certain of the more loquacious members of the American colony upon receiving my letter proceeded to divulge its contents to their native friends with the result that within a few hours my advice to my nationals was quite generally known in the city and was being exaggerated by repetition.
Saturday morning, February 27, 1926, I received a personal note from General Andréa asking me whether I would be good enough to call upon him to discuss the matter of protecting my nationals. I called at three in the afternoon and passed an hour with the General who took up my letter of February 22nd point by point with me. He went into great detail in explaining the military measures taken for the defense of the city and assured me that he was prepared to guarantee foreigners in general and Americans in particular from the danger of any important attack from without and from serious disorders within the city.[Page 138]
General Andréa made no reference to the letter advising Americans to leave the city, but being certain that he either then knew of it or would soon learn of it and perhaps misconstrue its intent, I broached the subject, showed him a copy of the letter and translated its contents. His previous cordial manner changed to a formal reserve as he pointed out that, diplomatically speaking, the letter was really a reflection upon his administration in that it declared the city to be unsafe, whereas he had just shown me that it was safe. I pointed out his admitted inability to guarantee Americans against the danger of stray shots which have recently killed a number of innocent pedestrians, and for that reason alone, if for no other, the warning to Americans was justified.
After a further exchange of opinions and friendly discussion of the rebellion, he became more cordial again, and as we parted he assured me that the safety of my nationals would be one of his chief concerns, that he would notify me immediately of impending danger, and that in the event of serious disorder within the city he would send a special guard to the Consulate for its protection and for that of any Americans who might take refuge there.
Yesterday I received from M. Alype his reply, dated March 1, 1926, to my note of February 22, 1926. A copy of M. Alype’s letter, in French and in translation, is transmitted herewith. It is self-explanatory.
I agree with M. Alype’s admission in the fifth [fourth] paragraph of his letter of March 1, 1926, to the effect that the situation in Damascus is still serious and must be followed with attention. I am pleased to report, however, that the situation within the city has ameliorated since my note of February 22, 1926, was written, but I cannot conscientiously grant that there is as complete security for foreign nationals established in Damascus as M. Alype would have me believe. I have no intention, however, of pursuing the discussion further with the Authorities along abstract lines, and I have therefore merely thanked M. Alype and General Andréa for their detailed exposition of the case, assuring them at the same time of my sincere desire to cooperate with them fully in this part of their difficult task.
I trust that the Department will approve the course pursued by me as outlined herein, since I am of the opinion that it, together with Mr. Knabenshue’s representations direct to the High Commissioner, has aroused the French Authorities locally to a better appreciation of their responsibility with respect to our nationals, a responsibility for which they have not on all occasions shown due regard.
I have [etc.]